Model Lily Cole found herself in hot water this week after she posted a tone-deaf photo of herself wearing a blue burka. While many would surely find the garment choice similarly offensive at any time of the year, it was especially ill-timed due to recent massive unrest in Afghanistan that could have severely negative effects for the women now living under Taliban rule.
In the original, since-deleted post Cole wrote that she wanted to “embrace diversity on every level – biodiversity; cultural diversity; diversity of thinking; diversity of voices; diversity of ideas.”
According to BBC, one of the photos had the blue burka covering her face and body, while the other had the burka pulled up to reveal her face. She reportedly had used the same images previously to promote her latest book, Who Cares Wins.
Lily Cole, 33, was named “Model of the Year” at the 2004 British Fashion Awards, and has since started Impossible People, an innovation group looking for sustainable designs.
Later apologizing and deleting the post from Instagram, Lily Cole agreed that the images were “ill-timed” and that she “hadn’t read the news at the time.” She said that she now understood why wearing the garment upset so many people, and wanted to “sincerely apologise for any offence caused.”
“I was undermining its original purpose by wearing it with my face exposed,” Cole said the friend who lent her the burka had later told her. “Thank you for pointing that out to me.”
The model’s photo snafu couldn’t have arrived at a worse time, as women in Afghanistan are frightened about whether their rights are about to be taken away under the threat of the Taliban. During their rule over 20 years ago, women were not allowed to go outside without wearing a burka and could not even attend school.
Janice Turner, a columnist for the UK’s Sunday Times, said on Twitter that Lilly Cole had put, “Instagram posturing before universal human rights.”
Anjum Peerbacos, co-founder of the Hijabi Half-Hour podcast, called the photos “disrespectful,” telling BBC News that, “It’s not a fashion accessory to be able to be deployed as a publicity stunt.”
“Regardless of how people around the world have chosen to wear that garment,” Peerbacos said, “that garment is a respectful religious symbol and is worn and used as such. For her to use it as what can only be described as a publicity stunt, I think is abhorrent and really displays to us her level of ignorance with regards to it.”
“You can’t embrace diversity if you are still the white woman dressing in ethnic clothing,” said Aisha Ali-Khan, a women’s rights activist. “That’s not embracing diversity.”
Ali-Khan went on to call Cole’s Instagram post, “playing dress-up.”
Cole has been in headlines a lot this week, as she also came out as part of the LGBTQ+ community. In her new book, Cole wrote: “Had my mixed-race daughter been born in a different country, she would have been a crime. If I were living in another country today, my queerness would be a crime.”
“I’ve always been quite private about my private life, consciously, and I want to continue to be, so I don’t feel the need to be explicit,” she told The Sunday Times, but “at the same time I feel the need to acknowledge that I am not straight.”
Hoping to continue to learn and improve, Lily Cole apologized once again in an Instagram story, writing, “my heart breaks reading about what is happening in Afghanistan at the moment.” She shared some organizations helping women in the country. She said she will send them financial support.